Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Victim vs Being Multifaceted Human Beings

As I've been reading a variety of articles and blog posts I was reminded of how some people respond to the stigma attached to victims of sex crimes by wanting to banish the word victim as if by doing so the stigma will magically disappear.

When I write about being raped I still use the word victim because that's what I was. I was a victim of a sex crime. When I say I was a victim of rape I am repeating a fact not playing the victim card.

The word victim doesn't strip me of my full human dimensions, people try to do that. The first person who did so was my rapist and many others continued where he started. Some of those people have made hostile statements about me which go far beyond anything my boyfriend/rapist said before, during or after he raped me. When they inform me that they are better human beings than my rapist (if I really was raped) they have no credibility.

Others mean well when they tell me I must use the word survivor instead, but there is something paternalistic and dehumanizing in being told to stop making a particular statement of fact.

When certain groups such as native women are victims of sex crimes at higher rates than other groups any victim-related stigma applied to them is a form of victim blaming. For there to be a stigma applied to certain victims those applying the stigma need to believe that these women must be doing something wrong which is causing them to be victims. This practice often turns sex criminals into passive beings rather than viewing sex criminals as humans who made choices to harm others of their own free will.

This overlooks important external factors which help sex criminals decide who to harm such as how rapes are prosecuted on and off native lands and how people view native women's sexual availability and sexual autonomy. The broadest external factor relates to attitudes about girls and women who drink alcohol so that messages directed at girls and women as an effort to help prevent sexual violence actually encourages those willing to commit sexual violence to rape those who have alcohol in their system by making victims the cause of most sex crimes.

These external factors are often ignored when the focus is on avoiding the V-word, but they are critically important if we are serious about preventing sexual violence. People who have the attitude that, "She's just a ...." are the ones denying that certain victims of sex crimes are multifacted human beings.

When people tell those who have been victims of sex crimes to stop being victims, they make victimhood something chosen by the victim.

We don't inform victims of identity theft that they must instead call themselves identity theft survivors. We can integrate the trauma involved with having someone steal a person's identity with being a multifaceted human being. That many people cannot do this when someone was a victim of sexual violence reflects on our troubling attitudes about sex crimes.

If people cannot integrate victim of sex crime with multifaceted human being then that contributes to sexual violence denial which contributes to the continuation of sexual violence. If it is clear someone is a multifaceted human being then by this twisted logic they could not have been a true victim of a sex crime.

We don't need to banish the word victim, we need to banish actions which victimize other people.
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posted by Marcella Chester @ 10:43 AM   6 comments links to this post


At December 23, 2009 11:54 AM, Blogger Anemone said...

I guess the word "victim" frightens people because it reminds them it's possible to be vulnerable.

When I first started dealing with these issues, I was encouraged to use the word "survivor". It wasn't until many years later that I chose to use the word "victim" as a way of telling the truth. It was a big step forward for me, since I was no longer afraid to be honest about it.

At December 23, 2009 8:13 PM, Blogger Ethereal Highway said...

"When people tell those who have been victims of sex crimes to stop being victims, they make victimhood something chosen by the victim."

The same thing happens when we are told not to let things like rape and incest bother us anymore. We're not supposed to be sad, angry, etc. We are supposed to be strong and happy and nothing else. Yes, we are supposed to dissociate.

At December 24, 2009 8:06 AM, Blogger JENNIFER DREW said...

Very true Marcella because women who have been subjected to male violence in whatever shape or form are victims of said violence. Demanding women and girls 'be silent' rather than stating 'yes I was victimised by male violence serves to keep male violence against women and girls hidden and invisible.

Women who have experienced male violence are more than just 'victims' but demanding women and girls ignore the devastating effects of male violence inflicted on them also serves to justify claims 'only those who did not enact sufficient precautions suffered such violence.'

What so many men and a large number of women do not want to even begin to understand is that women who have experienced male violence are simultaneously victims of said male violence but also diverse human beings.

Being a victim does not mean the woman was/is a passive individual but of course focusing on women and blaming or pathologising them takes the focus off the male perpetrators and their accountability. It also serves to keep focus on women rather than critically challenging dominant beliefs and constructions concerning patriarchal masculinity and how these ideas 'naturalise' male violence against women and girls.

At December 24, 2009 12:15 PM, Anonymous Kristi said...

Thanks for addressing this. The "victim" issue is a really important one. After violence or abuse, we get mixed messages from those around us. A lawyer wants us to fully occupy the victim role, while a friend or family member may encourage us to "move on" -- stop being a "victim," stop identifying with our "victimhood" (or, in the words of Caroline Myss, "woundology"). It can be pretty confusing, especially in the aftermath of trauma, when we're not even fully aware of what happened to us.

Many people are afraid of violence, they don't want it around them (as if they might get infected by it). Some don't want to acknowledge their own vulnerability and can't bear to see it in those around them. Some think everyone should just toughen up and deal with their stuff.

People may be well-intentioned in encouraging us to "move on," and not realize how much it hurts us to have our reality denied or diminished. That's part of the secondary wounding described by Judith Herman in her book TRAUMA AND HEALING. When the people around us can't acknowledge our victimhood, how can we fully acknowledge it to ourselves? Yet, that's the path of healing. Full acknowledgment. Not denial.

I wrote a post about some of this a while back on my blog:

Great post, Marcella.

At December 26, 2009 10:59 PM, Blogger Monika said...

I absolutely love this post. While I don't identify as a victim persay, I definitely identify with the word victimized.

I also work in the sexualized violence movement and believe it is important to use the word "victimized" while also letting people choose for themselves the labels they identify with. Personally, I would do away with both survivor and victim and transition to less labeling language e.g. person who experienced a sexual assault, person who was victimized by rape. But that is only because I don't believe that (regardless of how it feels) sexualized violence absolutely and totally defines us.

Great food for thought!

At December 26, 2009 11:33 PM, Blogger Marcella Chester said...

Thanks for the various comments on this post.


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